It used to be that some folks – especially Mennonites from other denominations – were of the opinion Mennonite Brethren thought too highly of themselves. Maybe people still think that way. And maybe Canadian MBs are overly impressed with themselves; although, if you ask me, I’m not so sure.
Many of us act as though we’re indifferent to a 500-year-old conviction that God is present and can be heard when the church gathers to read Scripture together. Many of us are no-shows at congregational meetings and conference events. Too often, we allow people to declare “God told me such-and-such” without also requiring that they explain how the message was tested and confirmed. And why do so many of us frequently allow people to trump conversations by saying, “We’re just being biblical,” or “This is all about extending God’s kingdom” – as if anyone asking questions must be against those things?
I think we can do better than that.
When we do get involved, we seem hesitant to trust ourselves. Some of us are pretty quick to discount our own Confession of Faith, even though it was developed over decades, in consultation with thousands of godly people rooted in multiple cultures in at least two different countries. Others shrug off conference resolutions that are the result of painstaking work on the part of hundreds of people who labour for years to listen faithfully to each other, Scripture, and the Spirit. Why do we doubt the tried and tested wisdom of that “great cloud of witnesses”?
I think we’re more reliable than we realize.
A wealth of resources
Yet we Canadian MBs tend to neglect the incredible wealth of resources in our own community. Which is odd. Anglicans seem to think they’ve got a good thing going; they pay attention to their top-notch pastors and scholars like Lesslie Newbigin, J.I. Packer, John Stott, and N.T. Wright. Our Reformed friends aren’t looking to borrow from others; they insist we heed the work of D.A. Carson, R.C. Sproul, and John Piper.
MBs have been around for awhile now, and we too have our fair share of first-rate leaders who have much to teach us about how we become friends with God and share the love of Jesus in our culture. So why are the world-class likes of David Balzer, Lorlie Barkman, Dora Dueck, David Ewert, Tim Geddert, Pierre Gilbert, Paul Hiebert, Harold Jantz, Hans Kasdorf, Alfred Neufeld, Ernesto Pinto, Katie Funk Wiebe, and Rudy Wiebe virtually unknown in many of our Canadian churches? Why are we so shy? Why not commend our good gifts and exceptional people more widely within our own community as well as the larger marketplace?
There’s a story about a man who wanted to siphon some gas from his car. He thought it would be a good idea to use a vacuum cleaner to get things started. Quick and easy. Too bad he didn’t turn off the machine in time. Even worse, he used a central vac. It took a long time and a lot of money before the fuel and fumes were cleaned out of the pipes and the house.
It seems we Canadian MBs frequently do the same to ourselves: many of us drink from what looks to be a helpful influence here and gulp down what appears to be an effective resource there without assessing what it is we’re taking in, and then it takes all of us years to deal with the after-effects. Why do we keep doing that? Why not begin by discovering the best we have to offer (and maybe also the failures and harmful habits we need to confess), and then look to other theologies to learn from their best as well?
At the recent Alberta MB convention, Terry Walling (president of Leader Breakthru and adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and Bethel Theological Seminary) declared it’s time for us to “move into [our] unique contribution” as MBs in Canada. Stuart Murray (author of The Naked Anabaptist) and others are encouraging the same.
Could God be calling us through the wider Christian community to think both more humbly and more highly of our people, our processes, and our traditions? My hunch is yes.
I think we have a one-of-a-kind role to take on. And I think we’re up for it.
So what are we waiting for?
—J Janzen, Interim Editor